THE BLOG
11/27/2014 12:49 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2015

Thankful for an Income, Hoping for Equality

The opportunity to work hard and provide comfortably for my family is something I am especially grateful for on this day of giving thanks. As most of us prepare to feast on a cornucopia of lovingly prepared foods, I am acutely aware that the basic necessity of a living wage eludes millions here in America and billions more around the world. For those mired in wretched poverty, Thanksgiving is just another Thursday where they try to eek out just enough to survive.

The divide between rich and poor right here at home seems to have reached a crescendo. Talks of the 1 percent versus the rest of us, cries to #boycottblackfriday, and the ever-present discussion of income inequality are all around us. Yet true equality is more elusive than ever, perhaps because this is an issue where both the left and the right are wrong.

For the left, the term "income inequality" has become a rallying cry. We're surrounded by stats saying that the richest 85 people in the world control more wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion, and that the disparity between CEO and average worker pay has grown staggeringly since the 1950s. We're told that retailers starting "Black Friday" sales on Thanksgiving are a sacrilegious affront to working-class Americans.

The left misses the point. Income equality isn't a goal, and it hasn't ever been a reality. Not only does it reek of socialistic underpinnings, but many of the left's loudest voices on income inequality are themselves 1 percenters. Additionally, it makes no practical difference to the average wage earner whether their CEO makes 50 times the salary they do or 500 times. The most glaring example of the left's misguidedness is their haughty derision of Black Friday sales starting Thursday, because it is so disconnected from the reality facing millions of Americans.

The reality of the 24/7, on-demand America we live in is that we are all making someone work on Thanksgiving. Whether we shop at a retailer, get a latte, travel or just watch football, someone is working today to make that happen. Sometimes because they have to, sometimes because they want to. Who are we to say? Appearing ignorant about the people working on our behalf makes us sound like the elitists the right accuses us of being.

If the left is misguided, the right is deluded entirely. The American dream is everyone working hard and raising themselves up by their bootstraps from hardscrabble beginnings to fame and fortune. But that dream can only exist if it is actually accessible equally to all. The right completely ignores the fact that millions of children are born into such poverty, through no fault of their own, that their chance of transcending their birth class is virtually zero.

In the right's fantasy world, everyone who is poor is lazy or stupid, even children. The right has used this fallacy to dupe many poor Americans into not understanding why they are poor, or how to escape poverty. They have made poverty about race and work ethic, not a system stacked against those born less fortunate.

With some regulation and controls, capitalism works, and it is congruous with a healthy democracy. There will always be rich and poor. There will always be those who work harder, are smarter or get luckier than others. Americans actually admire self-made fortunes. Some of the most admired people in America are the richest. Bill Gates, who has donated billions to eradicate the world of diseases like polio; Howard Schultz, who is using his wealth to help push employment for deserving veterans; and numerous others come to mind. These are successful Americans using their massive wealth to increase opportunity and equality.

And that is what people really want. Not income equality, but opportunity equality<. That every person will be afforded the same opportunities to not go hungry, to get health care and a quality education, to live without fear and to know that they enter the world on a level playing field, not a stacked deck. For the American dream to work, every American has to be able to share in it, through the virtue of their hard work. The guy working for minimum wage on Thanksgiving has to be able to believe that his kids can achieve the same dreams as the kids of a billionaire. When that guy loses that belief and thinks instead that he and his children are mired in a life of menial labor to serve "the rich," society breaks down.

Faith in a better tomorrow is the fabric that binds any society. It is a hallmark of American progress that we all believe, regardless of our place in life, that we can give our kids a better life. That your desire and deeds determine who you are is what has separated us for decades from so many societies torn apart by classist strife. This Thanksgiving, let's all be thankful for what we have, and let's remember to embrace the goal of opportunity equality. After all, the more likely we make it that anyone can achieve success, the more likely it is we will ourselves. Happy Thanksgiving.